Sunday, April 20, 2008

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

"Too sweet a flower to bloom on Earth,
she is gone to bloom in Heaven."
-Epitaph on a 2 year old child's gravestone at Rose Hill Cemetery

Locale: Black Diamond Mines, Antioch, Contra Costa County, CA
Date: Saturday, April 19, 2008
Duration: 5.3 miles (took 3.5 hours)
Price: $5 at kiosk
All in All: A wonderful place to explore nature and local history
Rating: ****

Maps & More Info:
Out of all the hikes we have completed thus far, I can't think of a place that is so well rounded. There are over 60 trails at this reserve all of which are full of history. These hikes/trails are great for regular hikers, families, couples, and children. It is very simple to get to as well - just go on Hwy 4 towards Antioch until you get to the somersville exit. Go right on this exit straight for a few miles until you reach the reserve. You will drive to a kiosk where you must pay a fee and receive a map. There are two parking lots. The first is for the information center. STOP HERE IF YOU WANT MORE USEFUL INFO! We had headed to the trailhead and found ourselves a bit confused as to where to start (I definitely wanted to see Jim's Place and the mine shaft). We stopped at the center where there are a couple of live snakes to seek plenty of maps for local hikes and a helpful guide who showed us exactly where we needed to go. From here, drive up the road a mile to the final lot to start the hike.
At the trailhead is restrooms and when we arrived a treasure hunt start. A woman who works for the EB Parks service was handing out GPS's to use for treasure hunts. We saw many children with their parents starting and ending their hunts here. The trails for these were only about a mile or two (mainly up to the cemetery). We decided to not do this or to go on the atlas-mine tour which is $3, though I would go on the tour next time. Before we started we overheard the story of Sara Norton - or the "white witch" who is buried among the 200 at Rose Hill Cemetery (more about her later). I had read the reserve was allegedly haunted adding to my enthusiasm of the hike but I tend not to believe in the occult so I did not feel scared, perhaps, if it was dark out when apparitions have presumably been seen it might be different.

The hike starts out on a blacktop road where you pass mounds and go up stairs pass the old visitor center which is now boarded up for maintenance. After the stairs you will see the Eureka Slope - used to hoist coal to the surface. Do use your map to see the points of interest at each pit stop. (See above picture).

Turn to the right to go on Chaparral Loop. Eventually you will go left on Manhattan Canyon and climb a ways and will come to a cattle gate. Go through it to enter Black Diamond Trail. Black DIamond Trail has the best views. You see the hills, the rocks, the wildflowers, Antioch and the windmills in the distance.

Black Diamond is fairly flat for awhile then climbs upwards with more remarkable views. If you have been to the Donner Falls you will see the same area from the top of B. Diamond as well as Clayton. As Black Diamond becomes a paved downhill curved path, at the bottom you will see Cumberland Trail. Cumberland Trail is brief and leads to an open mine shaft for you to explore. It only goes in a hundred feet or so but a flashlight is handy to view spiders, sandstone, and people who carved their initials and obscenities (shame!).

Continue back to Black Diamond Way. After about .20 miles turn right on coal canyon to see Jim's Place.

Jim's Place was a carved out cave with a skylight, stovepipe hole, and a shelf carved out. It's small but cozy if it was still the 1800s. No one is sure of who lived here or for how long. Continue on the trail. The trail is narrow and watch out for the huge pine cones that fall along here. On this path you will see other mine openings to explore. Eventually, you will go through another cattle gate and turn right onto Nortonville Trail. Stop at the signs to view pictures of what Nortonville looked like. Here over a hundred years ago was one of the small mining towns that held families from all over the world (Australia, South Wales, Scotland, etc) who came to mine. There was a saloon, a school, houses, and shops. After visiting history, continue climbing up the endless hill.

Once to the top, there will be another sign to read about the grazing of cattle and the ecology of the area. At this point there's only around a mile left. The most interesting point of the loop is to come on the left ahead - Rose Hill Cemetery.
The park has a whole brochure just for the interesting cemetery. You can get this at the center or at the cemetery but beware the holders may be empty here. The brochure has a map of the 200 burial plots and some interesting biographies of people buried here. Sadly, last century idiots decided to vandalize and destroy plots and many just have the base of a stone. But the park service has done their research and have repaired broken headstones, placed plaques over proper areas but they still have more to restore. The most interesting plot holder may be of Sara Norton.
She was a midwife who delivered scores of babies who died being thrown from her buggy. People have claimed to see her ghost here at night wearing a white gown, some say they have seen a buggy hearse climbing up the hill as well. True? Who knows, I'm not one to give into the myths but I don't want to be around after dark to find out. The tombstones are interesting and historic. They also tell sad stories. Many are buried with their infants and children who died from disease, accidents, and the mines themselves. I would say the average age of the people buried here is around 20 years old or so. Rarely did we come across an elderly person's grave. Try to read the epitaphs and poems on the grave, some are hard to read.
Notice the misspelling on this stone.

After admiring the cemetery and mourning the tragedies, continue down the hill to the parking lot. A shorter hike through a history chamber was how I felt at the end of the day, one definitely well spent. Above is a picture of a baby snake which said au revoir as we exited the park.

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